Savita Apte is an Art Historian specialising in Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art. She began her career in Sotheby’s where she was instrumental in founding the Sotheby Prize for Contemporary Indian Art. She is a director of Art Dubai, as well as a regular lecturer at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) and the Sotheby’s Institute.
Interview by Shivangi Ambani
What are the best personal strategies you have put in place to gain skills in your career?
The best strategy I have used is hands-on-learning, particularly from someone with a lot of experience in the area and that can act as a mentor. Those have been the most fruitful and memorable of my learning experiences.
How have you helped to develop those around you? Do you mentor and what value do you gain from that?
I went into mentoring without knowing it, and have developed deep relationships in the process. I supervise several research students and keep in touch with those I have mentored. They may sometimes correct the fallacies that I may develop over time and bring fresh and innovative ideas on board.
What role have you learnt from the most – the most challenging or the one that you have felt most out of your comfort zone?
Perhaps the most challenging role for me so far has been the one of a PhD student (Savita is a doctoral candidate with SOAS, studying modernism in Indian art). I have been out of the student mode for so many years. Particularly accessing electric journals and e-libraries is not something that is very easy for me. Some of my Master’s students have helped me navigate through these virtual references.
Do you feel the arts industry offers enough in the way of professional development?
The industry can perhaps offer more, it has so far been a contained industry, where galleries are handed down through families. However, these spaces are being reformed and renegotiated. Certainly auction houses, like Sotheby’s, are offering courses in arts management and arts business and there will be more development in the years to come. The industry can and should do more.
How different is the educational process when you are speaking to your students at SOAS or Sotheby’s versus the audience at Art Dubai’s educational program? What kind of programming has generated most interest at Art Dubai?
The student at SOAS is expecting more focused information and is much more receptive and critical of the information. When catering to a general audience, you have to provide all kinds of information and different levels of engagement. One-on-one conversations with the artists have generated the most interest. People were interested in understanding how the creative mind works and how that is translated into a visual medium.
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